Millennium Post

May Rio bring reforms

India loves to hail those who win medals and shower money upon those who made it to the podium at the Olympics. Being hero worshippers, we run after every successful athlete but not as a genuine sporting country to provide infrastructure and financial help before Olympics. While most countries spend money on building medal winners, India has a unique model where money pours in after you’ve won. Several media reports – after a poor show in Rio – came as an eye opener when the nation knew of how much was spent on our top medalists’ preparations. The first and foremost requirement is to bring about a paradigm shift. 

Badminton silver medallist P V Sindhu has earned more than Rs 15 crore cash awards after her stellar show in Rio. What went into her preparations, according to the data available, is only a fraction of it, Rs 44 lakh. Similarly, wrestling bronze-winner Sakshi Malik has received over Rs 6 crore; whereas a meagre Rs 12 lakh was spent on preparing her for the biggest sporting stage. 

The case with gymnast Dipa Karmakar is no different. A princely amount of Rs 2 lakh was spent on her training. On her return, the wonder girl of Indian gymnastics who narrowly missed winning a bronze has already earned Rs 15 lakh so far.

The gap between money spent on preparing athletes and the post-success splurge has always been an ugly truth. Such facts make nothing clear but do throw light on our country’s mindset about sports.

The bigger the cash award announcement, the bigger the celebration, the louder is the pronouncement of the good they are doing to the world. It wouldn’t appear so incongruous if they actually invested real interest in sports. The problem lies with their enthusiasm, that has nothing do with the love for sports or sportspersons. 

The damage political control has brought in the arena of sports is an old story. Time and again, politicians and officials have accompanied athletes to big events in order to have a pleasant vacation for themselves. If a country of 1.3 billion people produces only two medallists, then it’s a sad statement on how political apathy has smothered our ability to be winners. Success is not always about individual talent, it’s often about focused hard work and the infrastructure to encourage that.

Change needed on the ground, off it
For a change, can we expect them to let sportsmen run sports federations and associations and stop using such bodies as spheres of influence-peddling? Perhaps it’s a big task, given how deeply entrenched they are. And what about us, we the people? We come across as no better. The enthusiasm for sports starting from villages upward is hard to miss. But most of it is from outside the ring. We could be one unique country which produces more sports experts than players. Even with our limited knowledge we know something is rotten about the way a sport is run in the country. Many schools have stopped encouraging outdoor sporting activities; there’s a little encouragement for budding sportsmen. Our apathy only encourages non-sportsmen to control sports. Frankly, the joyous celebration of Sindhu or Sakshi’s success could be a shameless celebration of our own failure to develop a healthy sports culture. We would be doing the same after four years. It’s a routine no country should be proud of. It’s infinitely wiser to spend on the process than the end product.

Moreover, the entrenched politicians and other vested interests retain a vice-like grip on the country’s sports federations that are treated as their fiefdoms. Teams from India always include the largest contingent of officials for that particular Olympics. Hospitality is generous, tourism opportunities that are both exciting and exotic. This time, we even had a Union minister on a junket, making headlines for throwing his weight around and becoming an international embarrassment. Another former politico, a heavyweight — while on bail, serving a penal sentence — was spotted in Rio.

A fallacious world within Wrestling body
One of the most prominent medal contenders in the Indian contingent was wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. He looked just not at his best in the 65kg freestyle bout against Mongolia’s Mandakhnaran Ganzorig. After seeing him drag through the 0-3 loss, one was left wondering whether he was 100 per cent fit. There have been persistent rumours that the 33-year-old wrestler has been struggling with injuries and had an issue with his knee. If that is true, then it’s about time we raise a few questions concerning India’s wrestling federations and its selection policy for the Games. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), through erratic and unprofessional calls, made a mess of the Narsingh Yadav doping issue. It resulted in India having no representation in the 74kg freestyle division. Dutt’s performance hinted that India fielded a wrestler who was not fully fit, and a few months back, the WFI almost prevented medallist Sakshi Malik from qualifying for the Games. It seems the federation is letting go of the momentum the sport gained in the last eight years, after Sushil Kumar’s bronze in Beijing.

The whole controversy over Sushil Kumar’s participation in the Games stemmed from dirty politicking rather than merit. A two-time Olympic medal winner was not given a chance to try and qualify as the world body rules don’t allow for participation in quota tournaments if the country has already earned a berth in a particular weight category. Narsingh Yadav had earned the berth for India in the 74kg at the World Championships last year. A trial should have been Sushil’s right but Yadav has just too much political backing for that to happen. The case of Yadav being subsequently caught in a dope test shows just how sordid the wrestling underbelly of India is.

The case of bronze medallist Malik is almost as bad. She was not allowed to take part in the first qualifying event for Rio where federation favourite, Geeta Phogat, was sent. Subsequently, Phogat had to be suspended for disciplinary issues and that gave Malik a chance. Now, had Phogat got the berth in her first attempt, Malik wouldn’t have gone to Rio.

Shooting losing sheen
After Indian shooters’ below-par performance at the Rio, The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has come up with a proposal to set up a special committee, to be headed by Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, to carry out a comprehensive review of the poor show. Indian shooters proved to be an epic failure in a disastrous Rio Olympic Games as the 12-member team, with the exception of Bindra, failed miserably to live up to the sky-high expectations.

“NRAI is to shortly announce the formation of an independent committee to analyse the performance of the Indian shooting team at the Rio Olympics and fix accountability of for the same subsequently,” a top official of the federation told media. The panel will also be expected to recommend to NRAI measures to prevent a recurrence.

The likes of Heena Sidhu, Manavjeet Singh Sandhu, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai and Apurvi Chandela, among others, left the country thoroughly disappointed after they were unable to put on an impressive show.

The NRAI was expected to introspect and dissect the reasons for this huge let-down from the shooting contingent. After fetching medals at each of the last three Games, India's largest-ever shooting contingent returned empty-handed.

The issue of shooters hiring personal coaches, the selection of shooters for multiple Olympics on reputation rather than form and the role of private non-profits like Olympic Gold Quest, Lakshya Foundation, Anglian Medal Hunt and Go Sports are issues likely to be investigated by the panel.

Sources said the NRAI is keen to have the panel recommend that all shooting activity be centralised under the federation's control. Besides Bindra, the committee is likely to comprise NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia, former national tennis champion Manisha Malhotra, and two journalists.

Right after the Indian shooters’ campaign in Rio, NRAI president Raninder Singh had taken upon himself the blame for the dismal outing, saying it was a mistake on his part to allow the athletes to train with personal coaches. “We have made a tactical blunder in allowing personal coaches on their own. We will introspect this in future," Raninder had said. 

  •  Over a long stretch of 96 years, India has to its credit 9 gold medals, 7 silver, and 12 bronze – a total of 28 – at the Olympics. Eight golds came for hockey (the last of them, over a quarter century ago, at the truncated Moscow Olympics). The only gold medal by an individual – a beacon in solitary splendour  – was Abhinav Bindra’s, in shooting, at the 2008 Beijing Games.
  •  India’s tally in 24 outings, including Rio, aggregating just 28 medals, is in dismal contrast to the US’s 2,520 (1,022 gold, 794 silver, 704 bronze) in 27 outings, USSR-Russia’s 1,525, Germany’s (FRG-GDR) 1,304, Great Britain’s 847, France’s 713 and China’s 543 (227 gold, 164 silver, 152 bronze in just 10 outings).
  • Although China slipped from the second slot of 88 medals (including 38 golds) in the 2012 London Games to the 3rd rank at Rio, winning 70 medals (26 golds), it illustrates that everything stems from and ends in administration. In India, the more the things change, the more they remain the same.
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